Saturday, April 29, 2006


Changed the motherboard on one of the servers yesterday... the one with the groundhog day problem... and some things are running much better. It now runs on a clock that stays pretty much on time and we can correctly monitor the motherboard temperature, fan speed, power supply voltages etc. But... the second network card doesn't seem to work with this motherboard.

We have a system for monitoring all the servers, and all the services on each server which is supposed to send us an SMS message if something goes wrong. Peter has been off all week, so I have in between been trying to get the monitoring system working with all the new servers and services.

We have nearly 300 services to monitor and these are continually checked and and problems reported to us. About 10% of those services are proving an absolute pain to get monitoring properly. One such service is an alarm if the number of email messages waiting to be delivered gets greater than a preset limit. If this happens it normally means something else is wrong eslewhere, but its a useful indicator of a potential problem. Of 10 of the servers that have email going through them I configured 5 to monitor the number of email messages with no problem, but the other 5, with identical configurations are refusing to work. Why?

These technical problems are extremely boring. I would rather be working on media projects, but things like the monitoring service enable us to use the systems without spending all day every day just monitoring the technology. When I spend a week of in-between times trying to get the monitoring working and sorting out boring mother boards I wonder...

So... what we need is a good technical system administrator who likes keeping systems going!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Whacking hackers...

Today at lunchtime there was a discussion about how to murder someone. No, don't worry this was all in the light of the board game Cluedo. I was saying that I could not imagine using a candle-stick to kill someone. I'm a gentle sort of person on the whole and clobbering someone to death is just not me. But hackers really get my goat, I kind of feel like picking up a large heavy object and banging it around their heads.

Today we were hacked again. Last time we were hacked we thought we had closed all gates, locked, bolted etc. In the past people got in through using legitimate usernames and passwords they had stolen through our users not having adaquate virus protection. This time, in one sense it was much less serious in that they couldn't get into the system as a whole, but they did find an exploit on one of the forum systems and changed the forum system to rabid anti-Muslim propaganda. Seems like we are hit from both the Muslims and the anti-Muslims.

Strangely enough they appeared to leave a valid calling card. In the past it has been invalid, but this points to a site in Spain - home of a celebrated hacker community. So what should we do about them? Call the police? Tell al-qaeda? Send them a paela?

Groundhog day on a computer?

You know I have been complaining I don't have enough time to get everything done... well one of our servers has found the solution to the problem. It gains time, so that in a couple of days it's clock is two days ahead. We then reset the clock back to normal and it relives those two days again. Groundhog day all over again. Trouble is... its a pain! We have a system that should correct small time errors every few minutes. But this is drifting too far out for this to cope so that it cannot correct itself.

So, thought I, I will set it do to a big correction every 5 minutes. Sounds good eh? Well, yes, but the reason it runs every 5 minutes is because the clock says so. So guess what happens? It corrects the time, which means it pulls it back and then runs the correction again, which pulls it back and... need I go on? Of course this is not too much of a problem unless it sends you an email to say 'Done that, aren't you grateful than I'm such a nice little computer?' [liberal translation of technospeak message it actually sends] which gets a little boring if you get about 60 messages per hour like that.

Solutions on a postcard, sent yesterday to arrive last week to: Time Travel Bureau, 5 Vie La Temps, Tempus Fugit, Tomorrow.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

No news for a month

I started this blog thinking people might be interested in knowing what I was doing... since a number of people support me in this. However, I have had no emails from anyone or any comments from anyone so I have kindof lost interest and find doing this a bit of a chore. If nobody wants to read it, why bother?

So what has happened in the last month? Well, the live video and audio relay went pretty well. It was much smaller than last year, but there were still about 30-40,000 listeners and about 8,000 viewers over a period of a week. So although it was much smaller, it was obviously a worthwhile exercise. Bacause of where it was coming from there were numerous breaks in the feed. As someone who used to work in professional broadcasting this is pretty frustrating, especially as there is 'off the shelf' satellite technology that w0uld make it work very well indeed.

I also visited a country in North Africa to talk to the main editor of one of the websites we developed and host. We get about 60,000 visitors a month to this site and we have just finished rebuilding it totally. Most of our websites are media oriented, ie they have a lot of audio and video content, but this one is about 98% text. We have just turned on something called 'Google Analytics' which enables us to see where people come from, which is a total of 91 countries. It even breaks it down by city so I see nearly 700 visitors from Riyadh and even a handful from Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Some of those people are now responding to the message and we've been creating a new website for those who want to go on from an initial contact and know more about what we believe.

We've had a programmer [Michael] out here for a couple of months creating a stable system to integrate SMS messages into our work. Some of you will know that I created a system about a year or so ago to do this, but there were two problems with this: Firstly the programming I did was great 'proof of concept' but really needed a professional programmer to write a cleaned up reliable system for rolling out around the world. Secondly the hardware we had been using was not really up to it and so we had to use different hardware which meant it had to be re-written from the ground up anyhow. So that was what he was doing. It's close but not finished... and it should have been finished by the end of April.

One of the problems faced was the Arabic long messages. SMS messages was supposed to be a Short Message Service, but for many people in the region it has tended to replace email and has become pretty long. Some of this was documented, some of it was covered by sections in the specification that read 'reserved for future expansion' and then Michael had to dig around and try to find out if anything was written about the future expansion that was actually being used. Anyway, he has decided to stay on for another month which should complete the porject. There is probably enough work for him to do if he came back full time... so maybe that will happen.

In between all this Peter and I have been trying to get all the servers completely moved over to the new cluster in Frankfurt. We moved another one over last week and will make that live this week and hopefully complete everything before the London contacts run out at the start of June.

We hope to be start regular weekly live broadcasts in the beginning of May and this week a Scandanavian will be flying out to discuss this project. He has been involved in running an FM station in Sweden, so his input will be valuable.

As you have probably gathered from the beginning of this post, I am somewhat fed up. The stresses over the church have really got to me and I'm currently taking a break and then kind of looking around for another place to go to church. Although there are 8 english speaking churches in our town none of them seem a good match and I will probably end up at whatever I consider to be the least bad option... which is not very motivating to say the least. I feel closer to God out sailing than I do at church right now. At least when we look at nature we don't see men leading people astray!